A pavilion built on a foundation of innovative research

The Vidy Pavilion features architecturally innovative tenon joints. © Alain Herzog/EPFL

The Vidy Pavilion features architecturally innovative tenon joints. © Alain Herzog/EPFL

The new Vidy Theatre Pavilion’s design draws on years of EPFL research. At its inauguration on 11 September, visitors will be treated to an exhibition telling this tech-transfer story and presenting students’ models, a conference and a preview of a book detailing the building’s construction step by step.

The new Pavilion has replaced the tent that long served as a rehearsal hall and auditorium for the Vidy Theatre. Its inauguration, on 11 September, will mark a new beginning for this pillar of Lausanne's culture and cap off a significant transfer of technology from EPFL’s Laboratory for Timber Constructions (IBOIS).

When we stepped over the Pavilion’s threshold, we were immediately enveloped in its welcoming atmosphere. Our eyes jumped from the walls to the ceiling, sweeping over the 33 wood panels painted black. Pieces of wood spanning 21 meters highlight the building's exposed structure. The absence of beams gives the spectators sitting in its 250 seats an unimpeded view of the 19-meter-long stage. Inside, the wood panels fit together like a 3D puzzle. From the outside, the building resembles an outsized example of Japanese origami.

At the heart of it all we find Yves Weinand – architect, engineer and director of the IBOIS Laboratory. For over ten years, Weinand has blended architecture and civil engineering to build ecological, primarily wooden structures with unique architectural styles that are informed by the construction method selected. He assembled the Vidy Pavilion's wood panels using tenon joints, a novel method developed in his lab. Fewer metal joints and less glue were needed to build the Pavilion thanks to the use of wood-wood connections. This approach also cuts down the potential cost of sorting metal screws from wood in the event the building is dismantled or recycled.

In the following interview, the building’s architect, Yves Weinand, shares his insights.

In a special feature in the July 2017 issue of TRACES magazine, you said that the Vidy Theatre Pavilion was designed first and foremost with an “academic mindset.” What did you mean by that?

Vincent Baudriller, the director of the Vidy Theatre, likened the way we designed the building to putting on a play. We started with a lot of creative dialogue. That allowed us to not only develop the basic architecture of it together, but also to fully embrace creativity and innovation as we planned the project. As a result, we were able to put our digital panel-cutting models, our method for manufacturing wood-wood joints, and our double-layered folded plate structure into practice. These had been the subject of two PhD dissertations [by researchers Christopher Robeller and Andrea Stitic] and several IBOIS scientific publications, among other research. We tested the rotational stiffness of the wood panels, drawing on another technology transfer discussed in two scientific papers [by Julien Gamerro and Stéphane Roche], and then applied and checked calculations developed in an EPFL dissertation [by Stéphane Roche] to determine their accuracy.

It was also a great teaching opportunity. Last year we had our undergraduate architecture students design and build variants of the Pavilion, applying the same constraints we faced for the real project. Their models will be on display at the Pavilion.

How will the inauguration of the Vidy Theatre Pavilion mark the beginning of a new chapter in IBOIS Laboratory’s history?

The theater is firmly rooted in Lausanne’s history and therefore represents the first technology transfer from our lab to reach both a national and international audience. Obviously, the fact that we were able to work on such a prestigious building highlights the value of wood constructions, but we also want to show that it can be a standard structure used in architecture. As we were building it, over 60 companies interested in learning about our research and the resulting construction method visited the site. The Vidy Pavilion cost just CHF 2.8 million, including all the scenography equipment and excluding research costs. That’s quite low compared to other high-profile buildings, and it’s now got builders thinking. For me, the Pavilion is a prime example of the empirical method we used in our research – it was the construction and structural constraints that determined the form of the building.

The Pavilion is modular and can be dismantled. How does that tie into Vidy Theatre’s history?

Those features actually helped us develop our case for the project when we met with the canton’s architect. The Vidy Theatre has historically been considered a temporary structure, since it was built for the World’s fair held in Lausanne in 1964. It was supposed to be taken down, yet it’s still here. We built the new Pavilion in that same spirit. The dimensions of the modules are also based on the historical building. In addition, all of the rooms designed by Max Bill, the original architect, run east-west. The Pavilion, which runs north-south, is therefore an extension of the theater – an addition he had initially proposed himself at an architecture competition. In the book we’re publishing together with the Vidy Theatre, we discuss all these issues and go into more detail about all the stages of the construction process.


Vincent Baudriller, Julien Gamerro, Matthieu Jaccard, Christopher Robeller and Yves Weinand, Le pavillon en bois du Théâtre de Vidy, Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes, edited by Yves Weinand, 5 September 2017.